SINGAPORE: A queue of voters formed outside the Myanmar embassy in Singapore on Thursday (Oct 1) morning, marking the start of overseas voting for the Nov 8 general election.
While there is no official data, about 200,000 Myanmar nationals are estimated to be living in Singapore, according to the embassy.
First Secretary Yan Naing Khant said 34,000 nationals had registered themselves to vote in Singapore but Myanmar’s Union Election Commission (UEC) – the country’s official polls body – found only 32,000 were eligible.
The embassy has allocated 18 days for its citizens to cast their votes at its premises at St Martin’s Drive, near Tanglin Mall, in Singapore’s shopping district.
Voters have also been allocated time slots during this period so that they can comply with COVID-19 guidelines in Singapore.
“We have disseminated an advisory to voters to follow the rules of public order act and prevailing laws in Singapore; not to engage in political campaigning in public, to adhere to public law and not to wear party logos or T-shirts,” Mr Yan Naing Khant said.
He added the embassy has beefed up security for the 18 days of voting. The measures include hiring additional personnel to keep an eye on the ballot boxes.
A total of 45 Myanmar embassies, missions and consulates worldwide are preparing for overseas voting starting this week.
These include South Korea, Thailand, Malaysia, UK, US, Australia, the Philippines and China.
According to Myanmar state media, the UEC has sent 101,526 ballot papers overseas.
This is around three times the number compared to the 2015 election when the UEC received 35,000 applications for overseas voting.
The figure is a far cry from the estimated 4 million Myanmar nationals living abroad. But overseas votes have played a significant role in previous polls.
Singapore-based ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute’s fellow Moe Thuzar wrote in a commentary titled Myanmar’s Foreign Policy in an Election Year, that “votes from overseas Myanmar citizens helped to decide elections in favour of the NLD (current ruling party National League for Democracy) in 1990 and 2015".
In recent months, the Myanmar authorities have been reaching out to overseas Myanmar citizens who have lost their jobs, to fly them back via relief flights – even as the country closed its borders with a ban on international commercial flights.
So far, around 17,000 Myanmar nationals worldwide have been flown home on these relief flights.
This is on top of 80,000 nationals who have been returning daily from Thailand via a land border since May 1.
Myanmar’s former Information Minister Ye Htut – who served under then-president Thein Sein's administration – told CNA the decision to engage overseas citizens was a wise one.
“[Under] the previous military government, it paid very little attention to Myanmar people who worked abroad,” Mr Ye Htut said.
“Ms Aung San Suu Kyi changed the situation and clearly said all people – whether legal or illegal workers overseas, they’re our brother and sister. So we have to look after them. I think this is a very wise decision. And this will build trust between the people and the government,” he said.
Meanwhile, election activities are taking a backseat in Myanmar as the country focuses its attention on combating a second and more serious wave of COVID-19 that surfaced in mid-August.
The country's commercial city Yangon is under partial lockdown, meaning physical rallies and campaigning are banned.
The UEC has indicated on various occasions that the election would not be postponed. It said extra precautions – such as setting up more polling stations and splitting voters into shifts – will be put in place.